Melbourne woman ‘harassed’ by UberX driver

A 21-year-old Melbourne woman says she will think twice about using UberX after what she describes as a “concerning” experience with the ride-sharing service.

 

The woman, who spoke to StartupSmart on the condition of anonymity, says she used UberX to travel home around 3am on Friday morning after drinking with friends.

 

After reaching her destination, her driver tried to convince her to stay and talk to him. The woman declined, only to receive a series of text messages from the driver around an hour later where he told her to “have a good dream” and text him when she woke up.

 

The woman says she did not give her number to the UberX driver and instead he must have retrieved it via the Uber app after he used it to call her to say he was running a few minutes late.

 

In the text messages – which span across two days and which StartupSmart has obtained – the UberX driver sends the woman a kiss emoji and the next day asks if she received her $12 “refund from last night”.

 

The messages only stop when the woman says she has a boyfriend who “isn’t too happy about you texting me”.

 

“At first I was like it’s just harmless, but when it got to the point of him being like why aren’t you writing back, I thought this is full on,” the woman told StartupSmart.

 

Asked whether she would use the ride-sharing service again, the woman said she wasn’t completely sure.

 

“With a group of friends it would be alright, but by myself it would be a bit more concerning late at night,” she says.

 

“Once they drop you off they know where you live.”

 

While taxi drivers can obtain customers’ phone numbers if they wish to be called to be notified that their taxi has arrived, contact is usually made via a third-party text.

 

This is similar for Uber, with users receiving a push notification from the app telling them their driver is approaching the pick-up destination. However, Uber drivers and users can also use the app to call one another should they need to – for example, if the passenger cannot spot the car among other vehicles.

A spokesperson for Uber said in a statement the company takes these matters very seriously. 

“Partner-drivers only have access to a rider’s phone number for the purposes of assisting with the pickup, and no, the Uber app does not give them contact information after the trip,” she said. 

StartupSmart understands Uber has introduced anonymisation of phone numbers in the US and is testing the technology here in Australia.

 

The above incident follows the arrest of an UberX driver in Melbourne last month after he allegedly sexually assaulted his teenage passenger in the early hours of New Year’s Day. The driver in question has since been released pending summons.

 

In order to become an UberX driver, applicants have to be at least 21 years old and hold a driver’s licence with comprehensive insurance.

 

Unlike registered taxi drivers or UberBlack drivers, UberX drivers do not have to have a commercial licence – a factor which has frustrated regulators.

 

Operating a commercial passenger vehicle without a licence can attract fines of up to $7500. Approximately 270 UberX drivers were given temporary accreditation towards the end of December 2014 on the basis they would complete a knowledge test within nine months.

 

“We continue to encourage Uber to have all of its drivers accredited so that we know who is driving a vehicle and matters like this can be appropriately investigated,” a spokesperson for the Taxi Services Commission said.

 

“Drivers who are accredited to drive a commercial passenger vehicle are subject to criminal checks prior to entry and ongoing weekly police checks thereafter.”

 

So far Uber has paid fines issued in Australia and overseas and continued to operate thanks to massive investments in the company’s funding rounds. The company is currently valued at around $40 billion.

 

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